In February we took a long weekend away in the Dordogne region of France, one I hadn't visited before. This trip was a surprise, so I had no idea what had been planned. After a very early flight and collecting our rental car, our first stop was Saint-Émilion.
Having visited so early in the year, the town seemed very quiet when we arrived, we spent an hour or so walking around the cobbled streets, exploring the 'Kings Keep' - an unusual tower that overlooks the town - I read that you could go up it, but this wasn't the case when we visited during the low season. There's also a lot of cave du vin in Saint-Émilion, as well as the Collegiate Church and it's Cloister, and the Monolithic Church and it's tower both are amazing to see (picture below).
Despite booking a table for lunch, as we arrived there was a sign on the door saying 'CLOSED WEDNESDAY & THURSDAY' (in french), despite them confirming via email that we had a lunch booking. Luckily, just opposite, was Logis de la Cadène, which on first glance looked quite expensive and relatively formal, whereas we had more of a casual lunch in mind. However, we noticed they had a Menu du Marché which was 3 courses for €35, so decided to try it. We couldn't understand the rest of the menu anyway, and we didn't want hanger to get the better of us.
This turned out to be the best decision we've ever made. We had the most delicious lunch, and it was ridiculously reasonably priced. Having had a look at their website, I just saw that in the same month we visited, they were awarded a Micheline Star - well deserved for Head Chef Alexandre Baumard. We were served delicate, beautiful courses, that reflected the seasonal, local produce and tasted incredible. They also have beautiful accommodation, you can see all info on their website, it would be a great place to stay as I'm sure there's plenty more to see near by: www.logisdelacadene.fr
Saint-Émilion is a beautiful town to explore, whether you want to fully emerge yourself in the history, famous vineyards and local cuisine of the region, even if you're on a bit of a budget, it's just such a lovely place to be.
Our next stop was Chateau Monbazillac, which was beautiful and open to the public. We had unfortunately just missed the last tour of the day, but you can pay a small amount to have a look inside. The grounds are also lovely to walk around, and they produce a sweet botrytis wine that you can taste a a cave du vin a short drive away and is delicious as well as being a good price. You can find the visiting details here: www.chateau-monbazillac.com
This was the best part of our trip, especially as I still had no idea what was still to come. We were staying at Chateaux Dans Les Arbres - which translates to Castles in the trees, although my french is terrible so even having seen the sign I had no idea where we were.
After checking in we were led down a little wooden walkway, in into our very own treehouse for the next 2 days. They have 5 in total, but cleverly scattered so each one is completely private, and all of them are based on the architecture and styles of local Chateaux - our was Chateau Puybeton, it was very luxurious, with a hot tub and sauna on the private decking that's suspended amongst the tree tops as well as a huge walk in shower and roll top bath inside. You can see all the other tree houses here: www.chateaux-dans-les-arbres.com
It's hard to believe it was February looking at these blue skies. It was the perfect time to go, everywhere was quiet, making accommodation and car hire a little cheaper too which is always nice. Having travelled a lot in my early twenties, I can't help but love a bargain, and still believe you can have an amazing trip on a bit of a budget without missing out. You just have to do your research (hence me wanting to share my own experiences), be a little flexible, and go with the flow.
Anyway, getting back to our trip, we had the next day to explore the local area and completely relax in our beautiful treehouse. We had looked up a few local towns near by, and wanted to pick up some fresh bread and local cheese for lunch.
This is a chateau that's amazingly build into the rocks, and even more amazingly, privately owned. It's set in the peaceful countryside, with the Dordogne river flowing not too far away.
Despite it feeling as though you're quite far from any civilisation, there were interesting little towns and chateaux to visit near by.
First we drove about 10 minutes to the nearest town, Beaumont-du-Périgord, which is a small sleepy town - in winter at least - with beautiful little houses. We went into a boulangerie for some bread for lunch, and a tiny little boutique shop call Les Fils - where they have beautiful home decorations as well as personalised children clothes and other things made themselves from pretty fabrics. Here's their website if you'd like to see what they do: www.lesfils.com
The lady in the shop - which is run by herself and her husband - was so helpful pointing us in the direction of a local fromagerie. It was lovely just driving around and exploring.
The next day, following a very relaxed afternoon in the Tree House, we packed up and headed back towards Bordeaux. Stopping at some lovely towns along the way.
Finally we arrived back in Bordeaux, where driving was an absolute nightmare. A tip for anyone renting a car - ensure you fill it back up with fuel before returning it, even if it's a pain to get to, as they'll charge a lot if you don't and often send you to fill up anyway.
Our hotel in Bordeaux, - www.mamashelter.com - which, if you haven't stayed in before, I can highly recommend. They have a few across France, one in LA, Rio, and 2 new ones launching elsewhere in Europe. They're minimalistic, reasonably priced, and have a great bar and restaurant with an incredible breakfast and lunch buffet, like no other I've ever seen before (pictured above). Their menu is not typically French, making a really popular place for locals as well as guests who want something a bit different - which is unusual in France.
We just spent one night and half of Sunday in Bordeaux, but we still managed to explore a little bit. A MUST DO if you're ever in Bordeaux and you love food is visit Fromagerie Deruelle, conveniently no too far from Mama Shelter. They have an amazing selection and are really lovely people, the man who served us was more than happy to speak in English. But the BEST thing about this shop is that if you go in the late afternoon/evening before they close, there's a boulangerie on the other side of the street, a few doors down - with a red shop from if I remember correctly - that will have freshly baked warm baguettes for you to enjoy your cheeses with! www.fromagerie-deruelle.com
And yes, we sat in our room and eat the majority of the bread and cheese before then going out for dinner half an hour later. When in France!
For dinner, I'd recommend booking, as if you walk around most places after 8pm, many restaurants will have a little sign on their door saying they're full already. We were really lucky and ate at a cute little restaurant that had some spare tables outside, I will never get tired of eating dauphinoise potatoes in France.